Austin City Limits Festival has a way of finding you friends for life. Or, at least, it did for Bert Beveridge and Mark Phillippe, who met at the fest in 2007 and remain close to this day.
The first name is one you probably recognize. Beveridge, better known as Tito, is the now-billionaire founder of Texas' first distilling brand, Tito's Handmade Vodka. The vodka is a fixture at bars around the country and a household name to boot. At the time they met, Phillippe hadn't even joined the Marine Corps yet; in the years since, he was deployed to Afghanistan, came back to Texas and is now the owner of Hi Sign Brewing in East Austin.
He cites Beveridge as both a close pal and a mentor who has proven invaluable for Phillippe as a business owner working in the booze industry. So when the Tito's founder stopped by the brewery one day about nine months ago and pointed out the tap wall was missing an important beer style, Phillippe decided he would not only make that beer — he would name it after Beveridge, too.
"He saw we had a lot of IPAs on the tap wall and looked at me and said, 'I know y'all like those IPAs, but I think you need to make a nice, crisp, lower ABV lager,'" Phillippe said.
A homebrewer in college before he took a deep dive into spirits, Beveridge turned out to be right. He just laughed it off when Phillippe said he would name the resulting lager after him, but now, Berto the Mexican Lager is hitting shelves as Hi Sign's next mainstay canned beer, with early signs suggesting that it's going to be a hit.
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Phillippe chose a Mexican-style lager — featuring flaked corn and enough flavor that putting a lime in it would be a travesty, he said — because he noticed during hot summer days that he would drink a lot of Modelo. It was light, crisp and clean, and it served as a sort of inspiration for the Hi Sign brewers in crafting the recipe for Berto. They took their time developing it, making it first on the pilot system and making sure every element was just right.
But Berto isn't Hi Sign's first lager. The brewers also collaborated with a local bike shop to create the Mellow Johnny's Shop Beer, an American lager that was canned as a one-off product, unlike Berto.
It's important to Phillippe to emphasize that Berto the Mexican Lager is as serious a tribute to Beveridge as he can make. He's not producing it to capitalize on the Tito name and gave serious thought about what he would call the beer, taking input from the Tito's Vodka marketing team.
Like the other mainstay brews at Hi Sign, Berto's can features an illustrated character. Violet the Blueberry Blonde has a fair-haired girl blowing bubblegum, like the character of the same name in "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory." And on Wooderson the Ageless Outlaw IPA is an image (didn't you guess already?) of Matthew McConaughey's classic "Dazed & Confused" character.
People who have seen Beveridge in previous Tito's marketing campaigns may recognize his likeness on the Hi Sign can — and how appropriate it is that he's standing next to a cartoon dog. One of Tito's Vodka's pet charity projects is Vodka for Dog People, which donates money to Austin-based organization Emancipet, and at the offices of the ubiquitous spirits brand, employees have their dogs with them daily.
Offering a light and crisp Mexican-style lager as a year-round option might seem daring in a marketplace that clamors for the next juicy IPA. But Phillippe isn't worried — he's already gotten promising feedback from local bars and restaurants that say they want it available permanently.
Tito "has been a mentor, and I don't think this beer would exist without him," he said. "Which is to say, I would've done 10 IPAs before doing a Mexican lager. But he's right: People can have a few of these before going out to a football game with your friends. The beer you drink before your night begins."
There's one account he hopes will one day carry Berto the Mexican Lager. Hi Sign's distributor, Brown, supplies the beer to ACL Fest, and if that remains the case in the future, "we could be selling this beer there next year. That would bring everything full circle, which would be awesome," he said.